views updated May 29 2018


ROADS. Except for a brief spurt of road building around 1800, the continental United States was extended from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific without the benefit of good roads. The United States had few roads prior to the twentieth century, and most were of poor quality. In towns, most roads were unpaved until the late nineteenth century, and in rural areas most roads were little more than dirt paths into the twentieth century. Federal programs during the 1910s and again during the 1950s eventually provided the United States with adequate roads for motor vehicles.

Roads in Towns Before 1900

On maps, towns in colonial America and the newly independent nation appeared to have excellent roads. Colonial towns, such as Annapolis, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Williamsburg, were built according to founders' designs. Principal functions of the town, including court, church, market, and school, were placed at key locations, and main streets were laid out to connect the buildings.

Squares and circles were placed at the points where the principal streets intersected. Other colonial towns, such as Boston and New York, had random mazes of streets said to be laid out by wandering cows.

Nineteenth-century cities were typically designed around a grid road pattern. Most dramatically, the Commissioners of Manhattan in 1811 laid out the entire island north of the colonial southern tip in a grid of wide avenues running north-south and narrow streets running east-west. As the city grew rapidly during the nineteenth century, the avenues were extended north and crossed by higher-numbered east-west streets. The rectangular blocks formed by the streets were more easily bought and sold by speculators and developers than the irregularly shaped parcels of most colonial settlements.

The main roads of colonial towns were laid with cobblestones obtained from ship ballast. Gravel and blocks made of wood or granite were also used for some road paving in nineteenth-century towns. Although travel on these uneven surfaces was jolting, stones and blocks were an improvement on the vast majority of roads made of dirt. In 1890 the percentage of unsurfaced roads exceeded 30 percent in Washington, D.C., 40 percent in Pittsburgh, and 80 percent in New Orleans and Kansas City. In smaller towns nearly all streets were dirt or gravel. Even Manhattan had many dirt roads in the late nineteenth century.

As cities grew rapidly during the nineteenth century, the poor condition of the roads became an important sanitary issue, not just an inconvenience. Excrement dropped by animals and waste thrown out windows by humans was ground into the dirt or the gaps between stones, spreading diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery through direct contact and contaminated water supplies.

Cities made major strides in paving roads during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Brick was widely used beginning in the mid-1880s, especially in midwestern cities. Philadelphia had the highest number of bricks in 1898—2 million square yards—although Des Moines, Columbus, and Cleveland claimed more bricks per capita. Asphalt, already widely used in London and Paris, became a popular paving surface after the discovery of natural beds of pitch in Trinidad, and U.S. cities had 30 million square yards of asphalt paving in 1898. By 1900, after two decades of intensive improvements, Washington, D.C. boasted that it was the best-paved city in the world, and other U.S. cities, especially those along the East Coast, made similar claims.

Rural Roads Before 1900

The first rural routes were one-foot-wide paths traced by deer, buffalo, and other animals, or tamped down by Native Americans on foot. Pioneers of European heritage introduced horses and wheeled vehicles to the trails. Colonial governments, beginning with the Massachusetts General Court in 1639, laid out roads between towns, but few were actually constructed, and most long-distance travel in colonial times was by boat.

The most ambitious road project in the colonial era was the 1,300-mile King's Highway between Boston and Charleston, South Carolina, linking all thirteen colonies. The stretch between Boston and New York opened in 1673, and was widely known as the Boston Post Road because the route was used for postal delivery. Four years earlier, a post road had been opened from New York to Albany, and several others were constructed during the late seventeenth century to carry mail between the colonies. The entire King's Highway was completed in 1750.

Regular service to carry passengers and goods by horse-drawn covered wagon was inaugurated along the King's Highway and other Post Roads in the years immediately before independence. The fastest service, called the "flying machine," took only a day and a half between Philadelphia and New York during the 1770s, but most intercity travel was difficult: the first regularly scheduled stagecoach route between New York and Boston in 1772 took one week, and it took George Washington twelve days to ride from Philadelphia to Boston to take command of the American army.

Fur traders and other European-descendent travelers to the West also followed paths created by animals and Native Americans. European Americans carved out new trails in the interior during the 1770s, including the Watauga Road from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to east Tennessee in 1773, and the Wilderness Road into Kentucky in 1775. Hundreds of agents organized packhorse transportation along these trails, carrying tools, salt, and cloth west to settlers and returning east with farm products. Philadelphia became the center of packhorse transportation, utilizing such routes as the Forbes Trail across Pennsylvania.

Road building into the interior was extensive in the years immediately after independence, as the new country sought to tie together disparate colonies and a vast frontier. Lacking money to build and maintain roads, states turned to private companies beginning in 1790, when Pennsylvania offered a charter to the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Company. The company started building a road in 1792 and in 1794 opened the first sixty-two miles. The road was called a turnpike because a gatekeeper turned a pole armed with pikes to permit travelers to pass through after paying the toll.

When the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike proved profitable, it was later extended further west, and hundreds of charters were awarded to turnpike companies by Pennsylvania and other states. Turnpike authorities were typically authorized to erect tollgates every five to ten miles and to charge ten to twenty-five cents. Tolls were used to pay for construction and maintenance.

The turnpike era culminated with the construction of the National Pike, authorized by Congress in 1806. The first 130-mile stretch between Cumberland, Maryland

and Wheeling, West Virginia, known as the Cumberland Road, followed a narrow dirt trail known as Nemacolin's Path, created around 1750 by the Delaware Indian chief Nemacolin and Colonel Thomas Cresap. Contracts were given out in 1811, but the War of 1812 delayed the start of construction until 1815, and it was completed in 1818. The National Pike was later extended across Ohio and Indiana and terminated in Vandalia, Illinois. A planned extension to Jefferson City, Missouri, was not built.

The Cumberland Road and other early turnpikes were constructed of crushed stone, but the rest of the National Pike and other later turnpikes were surfaced with macadam, named for Scottish engineer John McAdam, in which a layer of compacted small stones was cemented into a hard surface by stone dust and water. Wetlands and small streams were crossed by placing logs side by side, a style known as corduroy.

Taking advantage of the well-built turnpikes, large heavy vehicles that would have become stuck on dirt roads were placed in service beginning in the 1820s. Concord coaches, pulled by a team of four to six horses, were built in three sizes—six, nine, and twelve passenger coaches—while Conestoga wagons, pulled by six to eight horses, carried freight. A dozen stagecoach lines carried passengers along the National Pike from Washington, D.C. to Wheeling in thirty hours, to Columbus, Ohio in forty-five hours, and to Indianapolis, Indiana in sixty hours.

Rural road construction came to a halt in the United States in the face of competition from canals and especially railroads. Many of the turnpike companies went bankrupt during the 1840s, and the roads deteriorated through neglect during the second half of the nineteenth century. Plank roads, made of wood, were constructed during the 1840s, but these quickly decayed and were not repaired.

Roads in the Automotive Age

The United States had the world's most extensive railroad network in 1900—and some of the world's worst roads. Through the twentieth century, road construction and motor-vehicle ownership reinforced each other. As motor-vehicle sales grew rapidly—exceeding 1,000 for the first time in 1899, 100,000 in 1909, and 1 million in 1916—Americans demanded and got good roads. At the same time, road construction stimulated increased usage of motor vehicles and, ultimately, dependence on them.

When the Office of Public Roads Inquiries undertook the first inventory of all U.S. roads in 1904, the country had 2,151,570 miles of rural public roads, but 1,997,908 miles, or 93 percent, were dirt. Of the 153,662 miles with any kind of surfacing, only 38,622 miles were stone or macadam, while the remainder included 108,232 miles of gravel and 6,810 of shell, sand, clay, brick, or other materials. Only a few hundred miles of roads in the entire country were suitable for motor vehicles.

A majority of Americans still lived in rural areas in the early twentieth century, but operating a motor vehicle there was nearly impossible because of poor-quality—or nonexistent—roads. Consequently, most vehicles were purchased by people living in cities, where streets were paved. Roads in rural areas served primarily as feeders into train stations. A few miles from stations, roads would terminate at streams or county lines or simply disappear into the mud. The cost of hauling grain ten miles from farm to station by road was higher than the cost of hauling it five hundred or one thousand miles by train to big-city markets. It could take an entire day to travel twenty miles in a rural area.

Good Roads Movement

Bicycling was booming as a leisure activity in 1900, and cyclists demanded good roads. The United States had 18 million horses in 1900, and many of their owners also demanded good roads. Bicycle and buggy owners were soon joined by millions of owners of Model Ts, produced on the Ford Motor Company's moving assembly line and sold at a price that was affordable for most American households.

Several organizations pushed for good roads. The League of American Wheelmen founded Good Roads Magazine in 1892 to promote the need for public roads. The National League of Good Roads lobbied for trained engineers to supervise road construction and educated farmers on the benefits of good roads. The National Good Roads Convention in St. Louis in 1903 heard President Theodore Roosevelt declare that a people who could tame a continent should be able to build good roads. In 1919 Colonel Dwight Eisenhower led an army convoy through the West to demonstrate the poor quality of roads and the resulting adverse impact on national security.

For motor vehicle owners, a top priority was construction of a highway linking the East and West Coasts. In the absence of public funding for highway construction, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Carl Fisher led a campaign to finance through private contributions the construction of a coast-to-coast highway named the Lincoln Highway, as a memorial to the slain president. For example, to promote the use of cement in highway construction, the Lehigh Cement Company donated 1.5 million barrels (the first cement highway was poured in Michigan in 1908). The Lincoln Highway was completed in 1923.

New Jersey was the first state to finance road construction through taxes, in 1891. Similar legislation was enacted by Massachusetts and Virginia a year later, and in twenty-seven states by 1913. Massachusetts and New York were the only two states collecting license fees from car owners in 1903.

At the federal level, the Office of Road Inquiry (later the Office of Public Road Inquiries, and then the Office of Public Roads) was established in 1893 in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the federal government did not fund rural road construction until the 1916 Federal Aid Road Act. The act appropriated $75 million over five years to pay half of the cost of building rural post roads, up to $10,000 per mile (later raised to $20,000 per mile). States had to agree to pay the remaining half, maintain them, and keep them free of tolls. The amount of surfaced roads in the United States increased from 257,291 miles in 1914 to 521,915 miles in 1926. When the system was completed during the 1930s, 90 percent of the population lived within ten miles of a Federal Aid road.

The Federal Highway Act of 1921 called for the designation of a national highway system of interconnected roads. No more than 7 percent of a state's public roads could be included in the system. The complete national system of 96,626 miles was approved in 1926 and identified by the U.S. highway numbers still in use. The Boston Post Road became part of U.S. 1, the Lincoln Highway part of U.S. 30, and the National Pike part of U.S. 40.

Limited-access parkways modeled on the German autobahn highways were built during the 1930s. The New York metropolitan area had a particularly large number of parkways, thanks to longtime parks commissioner Robert Moses, who wanted motorists to have access to the beaches of Long Island and the forests of Westchester County. Envisioning the New York parkways as for recreational driving only, Moses had the clearances under the bridges crossing the parkways designed too low for trucks. The Arroyo Seco Parkway (now the Pasadena Freeway), the first modern freeway in the Los Angeles area, opened in 1940, as did the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first long-distance limited-access highway through rural areas. Toll roads were built throughout the Northeast between Maine and Illinois in the years immediately after World War II.

Federal interest in limited-access highways dates from the 1938 Federal Aid Highway Act, which proposed a 26,700-mile national system. The 1944 Federal Aid Highway Act expanded the proposed system to 40,000 miles, and the 1952 Federal Aid Highway Act provided the first token appropriation for their construction.

The landmark legislation was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which established a 44,000-mile toll-free National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and committed the federal government to pay 90 percent of the cost. Most of the miles of interstate highways were constructed to connect cities, but most of the dollars were spent to cross inside cities.

Impact of Interstate Highways

The trucking industry especially benefited from the interstate highways. Rail and truck shared in the growth of freight handling during the first half of the twentieth century about evenly, railroads going from 896 million tons in 1906 to 1.4 billion in 1950, and trucks from nil in 1906

to 800 million in 1950. But over the next two decades, after most rural interstate highways were completed, truck haulage more than doubled to 1.9 billion tons, whereas railroads carried 1.5 billion tons, about the same as in 1950. Railroads were relegated to longer-distance hauling.

With construction of the interstate highways, the United States became a nation of suburbanites. The number of Americans living in suburbs increased from 30 million in 1950 to 120 million in 1990, whereas the number in cities of at least 50,000 inhabitants declined from 60 million to 40 million, and the number in rural areas declined from 60 million to 50 million. In 1950, 40 percent of Americans lived in rural areas, 40 percent in cities, and 20 percent in suburbs. A half-century later, after construction of the interstate highways, 20 percent of Americans lived in rural areas, 20 percent in cities, and 60 percent in suburbs.

People drove farther because they needed to do so to reach jobs, shops, and recreation. Taking advantage of the increased speeds afforded by cars, people chose to make longer trips rather than to reduce travel time. The average motorist drove 25 percent more per year in 2000 than in 1950. Average commuting distance increased 15 percent just between 1950 and 1960, offsetting a 15 percent increase in average speed that decade. Private ownership of cars enabled Americans to move to suburban houses and travel to shops, jobs, and entertainment downtown. Soon the shops, jobs, and entertainment moved to the suburbs, where most of the people lived.

Interstate highways enabled more Americans to drive many more vehicles many more miles on a few more roads, and suburbanization required them to do so. In 1950, 150 million Americans drove 48 million vehicles 458 billion miles on 2 billion miles of paved roads. A half-century later, 250 million Americans drove 201 million vehicles 2.4 trillion miles on 4 billion miles of paved roads. Thus the number of Americans increased by two-thirds, the number of roads doubled, the number of vehicles quadrupled, and the number of miles driven increased six-fold.

Roads in the Twenty-First Century

Faced with the difficulty of increasing capacity through new road construction, engineers tried to ease congestion in the early twenty-first century by making more efficient use of existing highways through designating carpool lanes, building park-and-ride lots, and encouraging employers to stagger work hours. Technological improvements further helped traffic flow. A navigation system in the vehicle, receiving continuously updated traffic data from satellites, alerted the driver to traffic jams and suggested alternate routes. Heavily used freeways were reconstructed with sensors in the pavement that could in the future control speed and distances between vehicles by regulating acceleration, braking, and steering.

Demand was also reduced by charging motorists for the use of existing roads and building new toll roads. Private or special-purpose public agencies gained authorization to construct new freeways during the 1990s, much as railroad companies did a century earlier and turnpike companies two centuries earlier. The California Private Transportation Company built a four-lane highway in Orange County parallel to the congested eight-lane Riverside Freeway(CA 91) between CA 55 on the west and the Riverside County line on the east. The company offered a money-back guarantee that the road would be congestion-free. The promise was kept by changing the toll by time of day, perhaps 25 cents at night and $4 during rush hour. A sign at the entrance to the road announced the cost at that moment to use the road. As the traffic volume increased, the cost was raised until sufficient motorists had chosen the old free road to maintain congestion-free driving on the toll road. Motorists could use the toll road only if they had purchased in advance windshield transponders that recorded the fares then in effect. Tolls were collected through monthly statements based on the records generated by the transponders rather than at tollbooths. Vehicles entering the road without transponders were noted by a sensor, and tickets of at least $100 were issued, either in person by highway patrol officers or through the mail.

Despite the wide variety of available technological strategies, congestion persisted, primarily because most Americans did not behave the way traffic engineers and economists thought they "should." In the 1950s, planners conducted elaborate studies to determine the optimal locations for new roads in response to travel demand patterns. The location of residences, shops, offices, and entertainment centers generated measurable amounts of traffic at specific times of the day. New roads were situated to accommodate existing and projected demand.

Ignored in the planning was the reciprocal relationship between roads and land uses. Roads were located in response to changing land uses, but in reality they also caused changing land uses. A highway built in the middle of nowhere soon sprouted commercial establishments and residential subdivisions near the interchanges. Engineers learned that if they built roads, motorists would come.


Flink, James J. The Automobile Age. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988.

Garrison, William L., et al. Studies of Highway Development and Geographic Change. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969.

Goddard, Stephen B. Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

Hart, Virginia. The Story of American Roads. New York: Sloane, 1950.

Hokanson, Drake. The Lincoln Highway: Main Street Across America. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988.

Holbrook, Stewart Hall. The Old Post Road: The Story of the Boston Post Road. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962.

Jordan, Philip D. The National Road. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1948.

Kaszynski, William. The American Highway: The History and Culture of Roads in the United States. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000.

Patton, Phil. Open Road: A Celebration of the American Highway. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.

Rae, John B. The Road and the Car in American Life. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1971.

Rubenstein, James M. Making and Selling Cars: Innovation and Change in the U.S. Automotive Industry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

James M.Rubenstein

See alsoConestoga Wagon ; Federal-Aid Highway Program ; Interstate Highway System ; Stagecoach Travel ; Suburbanization ; Toll Bridges and Roads ; Transportation and Travel .


views updated May 23 2018



The Earliest Roads. In ancient Mesopotamia, people and goods traveled either overland or by water. On land, people usually walked, while goods were likely to be carried on pack animals or in wheeled vehicles—wagons or carts—drawn by oxen or donkeys. A network of paths stretched across the countryside between trading centers. Whereas people and animals might be able to walk over quite uneven or steep terrain, wheeled vehicles, in regular use since the early third millennium b.c.e., required a surface free of obstructions, sufficiently firm for the wheels not to become stuck, and not too steep for a draft animal to pull its load. Thus, using wheeled transport required that paths be cleared of obstacles, leveled, and packed firm; and they had to be maintained in that condition. The trace of any path, especially one intended for wheeled vehicles, typically followed the natural terrain, limited by its grade, the locations of mountain passes and river fords, and the availability of water and food for man and beast.

The King of the Road. A frequent concern of Mesopotamian kings was the proper maintenance of the roads and the protection of travelers from wild animals and bandits. Grass growing on the roads was a sure sign of economic difficulties. In most periods corvée-labor (labor owed the state) from the local villages was responsible for road maintenance. Kings memorialized their support of road maintenance in year names and in poetry. Ur-Namma (circa 2112 - circa 2095 b.c.e.), the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur, named one of his regnal years “The year Ur-Namma, the king, from below to above, put the road in order.” His son and successor, Shulgi (circa 2094 - circa 2047 b.c.e.), realized the critical importance of maintaining the road system of his highly organized and highly centralized state. Among the self-laudatory poems he is credited with composing, one unabashedly describes his road-building accomplishments, which included re-establishing order on the roads to Nippur:

Because I am a powerful man who enjoys using his thighs, I, Shulgi, the mighty king, superior to all, strengthened (?) the roads, put in order the highways of the Land. I marked out the double-hour distances, built there lodging houses. I planted gardens by their side and established resting-places, and installed in those places experienced men. Whichever direction one comes from, one can refresh oneself at their cool sides; and the traveler who reaches nightfall on the road can seek haven there as in a well-built city. (Black et al.)

Then, to demonstrate the quality of his road system and his own strength and endurance, Shulgi put his roads to good use:

So that my name should be established for distant days and never fall into oblivion, so that my praise should be uttered throughout the Land, and my glory should be proclaimed in the foreign lands, I, the fast runner, summoned my strength and, to prove my speed, my heart prompted me to make a return journey from Nippur to brick-built Ur as if it were only the distance of a double-hour. (Black et al.)

Shulgi’s claim that “Truly I am not boasting!” is remarkable; Nippur is some 140 kilometers (90 miles), or nearly fifteen “double-hours,” from Ur. A “double-hour” is equal to the distance one might walk at a moderate pace in two hours, some 10 kilometers (6 miles). The event was apparently memorialized in the fashioning of a statue of the king, perhaps in a running posture.

Imperial Road Systems. The Neo-Assyrian Empire (ninth-seventh centuries b.c.e.) was the largest and most centralized power to date. Its existence demanded an efficient and well-maintained road system for use by messengers and troops. The principal roads through the empire, the “royal” roads, were accurately measured and supplied with road stations, resting places for troops and other travelers. They also served as relay stations where messengers might obtain fresh horses. When the Persians became the masters of the ancient Near East (fifth-fourth centuries b.c.e.), they expanded the Assyrian road system. Perhaps the longest and best-known Persian royal road ran from Sardis, the former Lydian capital in western Anatolia, to the royal capital at Susa, in southwest Iran, a distance of some 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles), which could be traversed in just ninety days. The fifth century b.c.e. historian Herodotus, who may well have traveled the road himself, described it thus: “At intervals all along the road are recognized

stations, with excellent inns, and the road itself is safe to travel by, as it never leaves inhabited country.”

Processional Roads. As a royal road approached a capital city, such as the Assyrian capital cities of Dur-Sharrukin or Nineveh, the road might be paved with stone slabs. When Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 b.c.e.) rebuilt Babylon he lavished great expense on reconstructing the main processional way, the Ayy-ibur-shabu, which led from the north, through the monumental Ishtar Gate, and on toward the great ziggurat E-temenanki. Excavated sections of the street reveal that the last 180 meters (600 feet) leading to the gate were at least 20 meters (66 feet) wide. The lower portions of the high defensive walls on either side of the street were decorated to a height of approximately 3 meters (10 feet) with polychrome glazed-brick tiles molded in relief. Depicted on the walls were some one hundred twenty striding lions between two bands of rosettes, one above and the other below the lions. In a royal inscription Nebuchadnezzar stated that he built up the roadbed of breccia and slabs of mountain-quarried limestone so high that the gates through which the street passed had to be rebuilt.

City Streets. Within a city, a system of streets served as a means of communication both within and between its various districts. Within residential areas, the streets were quite often narrow, frequently they were blind alleyways leading to homes. Wide city streets might run from the gates or the harbor to the major temples and administrative buildings. Processional streets were broad, straight, and paved with large stones.


Michael C. Astour, “Overland Trade Routes in Ancient Western Asia,” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, 4 volumes, edited by Jack M. Sasson (New York: Scribners, 1995), III: 1401-1420.

Jeremy Black, Graham Cunningham, Jarle Ebeling, Esther Flückiger-Hawker, Eleanor Robson, Jon Taylor, and Gábor Zólyomi, The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, 1998-

Douglas Frayne “Scaron;ulgi, the Runner,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 103 (1983): 739-748.

Herodotus, The Histories, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, revised, with an introduction and notes, by A. R. Burn (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1954).

Jacob Klein, “Šulgi and Išmedagan: Runners in the Service of the Gods (SRT 13),” Beer-Sheva, 2 (1985): 7*-38*.

Joan Oates, Babylon (London: Thames & Hudson, 1979).


views updated Jun 27 2018

roads. Medieval Britain inherited around 10,000 miles of Roman road, combined with an extensive network of trackways following less clearly defined routes. Difficult terrain and hills led to multiple pathways being employed, many still visible to aerial photography, and recognized by the statute of Winchester (1285), which prescribed a 400-foot clear tract for main roads as a preventive to brigands. Such largely ‘soft’ roads were capable of bearing extensive traffic, including from the 14th cent. enhanced use of carts, their tracks leading to fords and bridges. These, and customary uses, were recorded in place-names, such as Saltersford. Early maps show Britain's trunk roads: Matthew Paris (c.1250) mapped the route from Dover via London to Berwick; and the Gough map (c.1360) records around 3,000 miles of roads, 40 per cent on the Roman lines, and the local networks in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

From the 16th cent., traffic growth combined with closer definition of property boundaries to channel roads more precisely. Concentrated usage from the 1560s by wagons impacted adversely on this strip, and legislation introduced four days a year of ‘statute labour’ for all householders (1555, extended to six days in 1563) with their equipment, in place of common obligation, and from 1662 this could be commuted to rates. Continuing pressures after 1600 led to county initiatives to create paved causeways for packhorses, to adopt and erect bridges, and to signpost the way (directed by statute in 1697). Road books began with Ogilby's Britannia (1675), and became pocket-sized with Bowen (1720). The increasing employment of vehicles, even in the Pennines, enforced the realignment of roads to less demanding gradients, changes further developed by turnpikes. Legislation was passed to preserve road surfaces by restricting the size and draught teams of vehicles (1621, 1662, 1741) and the breadth of wheels (1718, 1753). Higher standards of engineering on Telford or McAdam principles after 1810 reduced the need for such restraints, but weight-related tolls priced the economical steam carriages available from the later 1820s off the turnpike.

The dualism of road management lasted to 1894, when the parish repair was eliminated: turnpike debts had soared as long-distance traffic was lost to the railways from the late 1830s, but despite some consolidation into unitary trusts—London (1826) and south Wales (1844)—and dissolution by the Local Government Board from 1872, most turnpike trusts lasted until the new county councils (1888), and the last to 1895. By then, road usage had already revived for feeder services to and from railways; into the growing towns; for the safety bicycle after 1880, and steam and motor vehicles. Rising traffic and the heavy dust created by automobiles led to the improvement of surfaces by tarring from 1904, replacing one environmental hazard with another, as the run-off from roads poisoned fish. The ‘Red Flag’ and 4 m.p.h. legislation of 1865, intended to restrict road steam locomotives, had restrained all traffic growth, and only in 1896 were speed limits raised to 14 m.p.h. (reduced by the Local Government Board to 12 m.p.h.), raised to 20 m.p.h. in 1903, and abolished outside built-up areas in 1930.

Road use grew rapidly from the mid-1920s, with around 3 million commercial vehicles, motor-cycles, and cars registered in 1938, and the 1930s were a ‘golden age’ for all but casualties: 120,000 were killed on British roads, 1918–39. The period thus saw the introduction of new speed limits, the driving test, and Hore-Belisha's pedestrian crossings (1934); the transfer to county authorities of responsibility for major roads (1929); and of 4,500 miles of ‘trunk’ roads to the ministry (1936). Road-building was a favoured object of unemployment relief schemes. The concept of a segregated motorway was discussed, evaluated by a delegation to Germany in 1937, and the London to Birmingham route surveyed (1938). Post-war, passenger miles by road quadrupled between the 1950s and the 1990s, and ton miles of goods rose rather more, with by 1990 more than nine-tenths of all traffic on roads. Their full economic and environmental costs were more slowly appreciated, but the success of roads has made them a central item of the public policy debate in the 1990s. See motorways.

J. A. Chartres


views updated May 18 2018

road / rōd/ • n. 1. a wide way leading from one place to another, esp. one with a specially prepared surface that vehicles can use. ∎  the part of such a way intended for vehicles, esp. in contrast to a shoulder or sidewalk. ∎  hist. a regular trade route for a particular commodity: the Silk Road across Asia to the West. ∎  Mining an underground passage or gallery in a mine. ∎  a railroad.2. fig. a series of events or a course of action that will lead to a particular outcome: he's well on the road to recovery. ∎  a particular course or direction taken or followed: the low road of apathy and alienation.PHRASES: by road in or on a road vehicle.down the road inf. in the future.the end of the road see end.hit the road see (or out of) the (or one's) road inf. in (or out of) someone's for the road inf. a final drink, esp. an alcoholic one, before leaving for home.on the road1. on a long journey or series of journeys, esp. as part of one's job as a sales representative or a performer. ∎  (of a person) without a permanent home and moving from place to place.2. (of a car) in use; able to be driven. ∎  (often on-the-road) (of or with reference to the price of a motor vehicle) including the cost of license plates, tax, etc., so the vehicle is fully ready for use on public roads: we found on-the-road prices from 5,780 to 6,151 dollars.a road to nowhere see nowhere.take to the road (or take the road) set out on a journey or series of journeys.DERIVATIVES: road·less adj.

Plank Roads

views updated May 23 2018


PLANK ROADS, introduced into the United States from Canada about 1837, were first constructed in New York and later in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Builders created thousands of miles of plank roads at a mileage cost of $1,000 to $2,400. To create a plank road, builders first provided good drainage by digging ditches on either side. Next they laid planks, three or four inches thick and eight feet long, at right angles to stringers, which rested lengthwise on the roadbed. Portable sawmills set up in neighboring forests prepared the planks. For a time, plank roads successfully competed with railroads, but paved roads eventually replaced them.


Majewski, John, Christopher Baer, and Daniel B. Klein. "Responding to Relative Decline: The Plank Road Boom of Antebellum New York." Journal of Economic History 53, no. 1 (March 1993): 106–122.

Taylor, George Rogers. The Transportation Revolution, 1815– 1860. The Economic History of the United States, vol. 4. New York: Rinehart, 1951.

Charles B.Swaney/a. e.

See alsoRoads ; Transportation and Travel ; andpicture (overleaf).


views updated Jun 11 2018

road all roads lead to Rome proverbial saying, early 19th century, meaning that different routes will be drawn to a powerful centre. A similar idea is found in the late 14th century, in Chaucer' Astrolabe (Prologue), ‘Right as diverse pathes leden diverse folk the righte way to Rome.’ Medieval Latin has, ‘a thousand roads lead man for ever towards Rome.’
road rage violent anger caused by the stress and frustration of driving a motor vehicle; especially (an act of) violence committed by one motorist against another which is provoked by the supposedly objectionable driving of the victim.

See also why did the chicken cross the road, road to Damascus, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


views updated May 17 2018

A. †riding; †RAID OE.;

B. sheltered water where ships may ride XIV;

C. line of communication between places (also roadway) XVI; (gen.) way, course. OE. rād = MDu. rēd, ON. reiō, rel. to rīdan RIDE. Sense C may be generalized from such comps. as OE. hwēolrād wheel-track, strēamrād course of a stream.